Long gone are the days when video game sports meant pushing pixels around the screen while feeding your face with junk food and sugary drinks. Throughout the last two decades, e-sports have been growing in popularity and exposure – on TV as well as online streaming services like Twitch – to the extent that they’re treated, in many ways, just like more traditional athletic endeavors.
Today’s top players of games such as Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and StarCraft II can compete for potential millions in prize money and sponsorships and achieve celebrity status at big events like BlizzCon. Indeed, the average salary for pro e-sports players in the U.S. is reckoned to be $50,000 – that’s about the same as you could expect to receive with a master’s degree in many professional fields.
Get out of Bed
So it’s not a slacker’s hobby any more. According to a Business Insider article, many pro gamers practise for 50 hours a week; there are formal courses and even scholarships available at least two U.S. colleges while the University of California recently announced an e-sports scholarship.
And the regime demanded of successful players goes far beyond gaming practice itself. For example, the leading pro Mike Chaves – a retired player now coaching OpTic Gaming, and known as Flamesword – uses a massage bed, drinks protein smoothies and pushes himself with intense workouts. Nutrition is important too. “You always see opponents with energy drinks and other beverages that are loaded with sugar, people who don’t watch what they eat,” says Rene Pinkera, who led the winning World of Warcraft team at last year’s BlizzCon. “We try to avoid sugar, we eat a banana beforehand, or maybe a muesli bar. And you can’t go wrong by drinking water,” he added.
Physical and mental demands mean it’s a young person’s game (and to some extent, sadly, a man’s game: although there are no male-female biological differences that really matter in e-sports, women are, for now, rather underrepresented.
Posture and attention to potential physical strains during actual play are as vital as preparation in the world of esports, just like in conventional sports. Key factors here include sitting carefully, with special care for knees, back, neck and head; establishing the optimum screen height; keeping arms, hands and shoulders in the best positions; taking necessary breaks; giving the eyes occasional rests; and even considering the way you breathe.
So says performance coach Frank Maas, who gives advice on e-sports ergonomics: “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,. If you breathe very badly when you’re playing a game, you tense up, or you have unrealistic expectations of yourself — these will all contribute to you feeling pain, of feeling discomforting while playing a game.”
And at the same time as maintaining tip-top condition to meet the bodily demands of the game, the e-sports player has to be in command of tactics, quick-thinking and alert. Here, too, exercise can help: there’s a clear link between some kinds of physical training and mental agility. In the e-sports field of professional poker players, there’s certainly been a shift in the appearance of your average champion. Contemporary poker pros value physical fitness, especially since it reflects on their cerebral prowess. For example, cardio creates new brain cells, burning calories helps with memory, and working out can help maintain all-day energy, all invaluable tools of the e-sports trade.
E-sports also bring demands more commonly associated with other fields ranging from business management to life coaching. Motivation, avoiding burnout, and maintaining a good team atmosphere are all critical. Tech can help too, of course, and we don’t just mean watching Twitch streams to learn from other players (though that’s valuable). High-spec headsets, mice and the like are all designed to enable players to maximize their performance.
Not Just Virtual
Given all this, it’s little surprise that scientists have concluded that e-sports players are similar to “real” athletes in terms of the physical strains they have to endure. Professor Ingo Froböse of the German Sports University, who led a study comparing e-sports with conventional sports:
“We were particularly impressed by both the demands placed on the motor skills and their capabilities. The e-sports athletes achieve up to 400 movements on the keyboard and the mouse per minute, four times as much as the average person. The whole thing is asymmetrical, because both hands are being moved at the same time and various parts of the brain are also being used at the same time.”
Science and the non-gaming world has certainly started taking e-sports seriously into account. Bookies offer e-sports betting and conventional sports clubs such as Turkey’s Besiktas have started sponsoring e-sports teams. The International e-Sports Federation has even held meetings with national sports bodies to discuss the possibility of e-sports becoming recognized as a mainstream sporting activity.
The shift into the mainstream and the widespread acceptance that e-sports still are sports may not happen overnight, though it seems plausible – but even while you’re waiting, there’s no excuse not to get training. Set that alarm clock now.